Last week, I was interviewed by fiction writer Maddie White for her NECROPOLIS column, Joined Journeys. I talk about living with and taking care of myself through Borderline Personality Disorder. You can read the interview here.
What mental illness do you suffer from?
My biggest struggle is with borderline personality disorder, but I’m also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
When was the first time you noticed it and how?
I wasn’t diagnosed borderline until I was almost 18 years old — mental health professionals are very hesitant to dish out that diagnosis to teens because a lot of the symptoms are similar to symptoms of normal hormonal changes. However, I started struggling with depression and self-harm when I was 12 years old, and started taking medication and seeing a therapist shortly thereafter. I stayed on anti-depressants all throughout high school but didn’t really feel like my meds were helping me until I started taking a mood stabilizer after my borderline diagnosis.
How does it affect your life as a whole?
I have to be really self-aware of my emotions at all times. I have to check in with my mind and my body and self-regulate my feelings because my brain doesn’t really do it itself. For a long time, I was having intense, exaggerated emotional responses and I didn’t understand why. When I got the borderline diagnosis, it helped me understand what was going on in my mind, but if something happens that upsets me, I have to take a step back and do a sort of inventory with myself and make sure that when I enter a potentially triggering interaction, I’m able to control my reactions and communicate effectively, not letting my feelings get the best of me.
How does it affect your day-to-day?
I have to practice a lot of self-care because if I don’t, I can end up getting back to a really dark place that took me years to escape from. I can’t over-schedule my day because I have to make time to sit by myself and be quiet and recuperate every day. It’s hard because I work as a bartender full time and I have several editing/contributing writer jobs and I have a poetry collection due out this December, but I always make sure to find time to take care of myself, even if it’s just thirty minutes sitting on my porch, reading a book.
What have you learned about it?
I would venture to say that borderline personality disorder is one of the most stigmatized and misunderstood disorders. I had an abnormal psychology professor tell me in college that it was the serial killer disorder. We’re also often seen as incredibly manipulative. Yes, there are serial killers that had BPD diagnoses and yes, there are borderlines in the world who can be manipulative, but as a whole, those are small slices of the picture of this disorder. The borderlines I know have the biggest hearts of anyone because we feel so deeply. And that’s a really beautiful thing.
What has it taught you about yourself?
Having to be aware of my emotions all the time has taught me to be a really observant person. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m comfortable being quiet and just people-watching because that’s essentially something I’ve had to do with myself. I used to be really uncomfortable with silence, but now I enjoy it and use that time to analyze the people/situations I’m around.
Have you found anything helpful in coping with it?
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy was created by a woman with borderline for other borderlines. I’ve been in DBT since I was 15 years old, even before I got my diagnosis, and it has taught me a lot of great coping mechanisms. There’s an entire module called “mindfulness” that teaches a lot of meditation-based coping mechanisms that have helped me. My favorite is called “10 Candles,” where you close your eyes and take deep breaths and imagine blowing out a candle with each exhale.
Describe a time in which you felt empowered after doing something in spite of the disorder.
Recently, I wrote an essay called “77 Pills” about my overdose attempt four years ago. I was nervous about seeing it published because I know how much stigma and judgment there is around suicide and mental health. However, the feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive. So many people commented on how strong I was to have gotten through that, but I also had a lot of people reaching out to me about how empowered they felt by my story. When I first started publishing my poetry last November, I set out with the goal of sharing my story so that anyone who was struggling the way I had struggled would know they weren’t alone. And the response to my essay tells me I’m accomplishing just that.
Thank you for interviewing me, Maddie! This is such an important venture and I’m honored to be a part of it.